The first problem in trying to understand what Christianity teaches is to decide which form of Christianity! There are no less than 38,000 different denominations – and that’s a conservative estimate. The exact number is hard to determine; after all, what counts as a denomination?
Most coexist harmoniously, but some violently disagree with each other. In the past, people have been hung, drawn and quartered for following the ‘wrong’ version. Wars were fought over which was the ‘right’ one. Even within living memory, vicious acts of terrorism have been perpetrated between denominations such as the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
There are three main groupings of Christians – Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Syrian, Serbian etc.). Protestants encompass many forms – Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist and so on. Then there’s a host of others, including Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Christian Science, Coptic and Charismatics, and they’re just for starters. In addition Spiritualists, Mormons, Unity, Christian Scientists, Moonies and many others quote Yeshua and draw inspiration from the New Testament. Some of them also have their own versions of the Bible.
Where differences in doctrine exist, denominations often struggle to respect each other’s beliefs. For example, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches don’t allow Protestants to attend their celebration of the Eucharist since they do not agree over the status of the bread and wine used in the service.
Moreover, many Christians don’t buy into everything taught by their own church, e.g. many Catholics ignore their church’s teachings on contraception and abortion. The Methodist Church bans alcohol, yet I knew a group of ministers who brewed their own beer! And I also know of an Anglican priest who had a sixty year affair with a woman who he first abused when she was only thirteen!
Uniformity in Christian practice and belief has never existed. Even in its earliest days – the fourth and fifth decades of the First Century, the Apostles Cephas and Paul were at loggerheads over whether non-Jews could be recruited without adopting the Jewish food laws and, for men, circumcision (ouch!).
Even though they all claim to worship the same G_d and draw on the same scriptural sources there are still major disagreements. They can’t all be right, if indeed any of them are!
©David Lawrence Preston, 29.8.2016
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Balboa Press, 2015